Accident Database

Report ID# 89491

  • Impact/Trauma
  • Physical Trauma
  • Other

Accident Description

Date: 4/5/20

Location: Potomac River, near Washington DC

Section: Fishladder, 5th slide, Great Falls (Maryland side)

Three paddlers, all strong Class V kayakers, arrived to scout Back Canyon of Fishaldder on Great Falls in the early afternoon.  We had all paddled the section together the day before at higher flows and were feeling excited, nervous, but confident about our lines. 

We walked up, ran 2nd slide and eddied out above Back Canyon.  The order was Paddler2, Paddler3, and then Paddler1. Paddler2 and Paddler3 were eddied out at the bottom of the rapid when the accident occurred.  Paddler3 couldn’t see upstream but noted it was taking longer than expected.  Paddler3 later found out Paddler1 had boofed the river left side of the hydraulic immediately under the pedestrian bridge, gotten pulled back in and was being surfed. She rolled up in the feature but was flipped again and after a fight swam out her kayak.

Next time Paddler2 and Paddler3 saw Paddler1/swimmer she was popping up just upstream of Paddler2 after the water from “the Monkey” enters Back Canyon.  Paddler2 was set up perfectly in an eddy for a rescue but as Paddler1/swimmer was about to reach him she was sucked down on the eddyline and didn’t pop up again until she was downstream of his kayak.  Paddler1/swimmer swam hard towards river right as we all knew of the large eddy on that side and she attempted to catch it, but the currents had put her too far towards the river left shore and she was flushed downstream.

Paddler2 and Paddler3 chased after her in our boats and Paddler2 got to her immediately above 5th slide.  Paddler1/swimmer grabbed the bow of Paddler2’s kayak and he attempted to back-paddle her into the last chance eddy on river right.  She realized that he was not going to be able to do so and rather than pull him over the right side of 5th slide she pushed off his kayak and swam aggressively towards the center of the river.  Despite swimming hard towards the center she hit her left leg on the concrete abutment on the ride side of 5th slide, breaking her tibia. 

Paddler3 chased her down through the following whitewater, into the main flow of the Potomac River, and caught up to her towards the end of S-Turn rapid.  Paddler3 lifted Paddler1/swimmer out of the water long enough for her to regain the strength to hold onto his kayak, then he pulled her onto the rock river right at the Rocky Island surf wave.  A paramedic on shore called 911 and about 30 minutes later a Montgomery County Swift Water Rescue raft arrived, splinted her leg, and transported her by water to the ambulance.


- Potomac River, near Great Falls,

Rescue Crews @  @MCFRS_EMIHS w/ patient, injured kayaker will be extracted/evacuated via @mcfrs  Swift Water Rescue boats to awaiting EMS onMD shore, 1 adult, injured leg, NL, USPark Eagle 2 assisting

Female victim swam out of her boat on the Fish Ladder section and broke her lower leg badly. She swam into the main flow of the Potomac, through S-Turn and Rocky rapids. Two boaters were with her, and took good care of her. They pulled her out onto mid-river rocks below Rocky Island. She was evacuated by fire department swift water zodiac; ambulance drove her to hospital.

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